Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 November 2019

International support for Hariri's reforms as Lebanon protests for sixth day

Walid Jumblatt says his two ministers are not planning to resign

Anti-government protesters gathered in downtown Beirut on Tuesday. Reuters
Anti-government protesters gathered in downtown Beirut on Tuesday. Reuters

A group of nations and international bodies set up to support Lebanon have backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s reforms but France on Monday said the rights of protesters must be respected.

The International Support Group for Lebanon consists of the UN, China, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the UK, US, EU and the Arab League,

On Monday it said Mr Hariri's reform package, which was approved by Cabinet, “came in line with the aspirations of the Lebanese people".

“He credited the consensus around them to the men and women who in the past days protested for their national dignity,” said the UN special co-ordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, after Mr Hariri met representatives of the group's member states.

Lebanon’s Druze leader and longtime ally of Mr Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, on Monday night told The National that his two ministers would not be following the Lebanese Forces’ four Cabinet members in resigning.

"I presented my objections," Mr Jumblatt said. " I know there is dissatisfaction among my party and I will wait for the moment to resign, but I am not sure it is worth it.

"I will suggest a Cabinet shuffle and we will see."

Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who leads the prime minister’s Future parliamentary bloc, called for a small government of technocrats led by Mr Hariri to carry out reforms.

“These decisions not only lack a credible and capable government but also something else," Mr Siniora told Al Arabiya TV.

"In order to get Lebanon out of its crisis, there must be confidence that contributes and leads to the launch of economic growth again.

“Restoring confidence is not only through promises. Citizens want to see actions because they are tired of promises."

Mr Siniora is accused of presiding over $11 billion (Dh40.4bn) in extra-budgetary spending during his terms between 2005 and 2009.

He insists the money was used legally for the state when Parliament would not pass a budget.

Protesters have been fed up of corruption and recent government-led austerity measures. Reuters
Protesters have been fed up of corruption and recent government-led austerity measures. Reuters

France on Tuesday said the mass anti-government protests across Lebanon must remain peaceful and demonstrators’ rights have to be respected.

The Lebanese army on Monday night moved in to break up hundreds of men on mopeds driving through central Beirut with the flags of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, chanting slogans against the mass demonstrations now in their sixth day.

About 30 officers moved in with sticks and batons to turn back the moped riders, several of whom were detained.

At least one officer had his weapon raised as he ran towards the convoy, which quickly scattered up side streets.

The convoy headed down Beshara Khoury Street in central Beirut towards Martyrs’ Square, the centre of the week-long protests.

Hezbollah and Amal quickly released statements denying that they had sent the convoy to the streets.

Protests calling for the Lebanese government to resign entered their sixth day on Tuesday, with thousands again taking to the streets nationwide.

Roads north from Beirut and elsewhere were again blocked by protesters, who have brought the country to a standstill.

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Lebanese flashpoints

Protest sites and roadblocks mapped

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The Association of Lebanese Banks said financial institutions would remain closed for a fifth day on Wednesday, raising fears that it could lead to cash shortages.

But banks tried to assure the public that credit and debit cards would continue to work as normal and that ATMs in most areas were still stocked with money.

They warned, however, that this could change if the roads remained blocked.

The syndicate of hospital workers on Tuesday urged protesters to allow medical professionals and patients through roadblocks to reach clinics.

Education Minister Akram Chehayeb said on Tuesday that schools and colleges would resume classes from Wednesday.

But the statement was received with anger from those on the streets who pledged to picket education institutions and prevent classes.

The move was later reversed, with schools to stay closed until further notice.

Mr Chehayeb insisted there was no political motivation behind trying to reopen classes and it was not aimed at restricting the demonstrations.

“It is in the best interests of the students and as a result of requests by parents,” he said.

Mr Hariri's reforms, aimed at cutting costs and raising money, were approved on Monday.

They included setting up a body to investigate corruption, a tax on bank profits and axing non-crucial government bodies and ministries.

The Information Ministry is one of the institutions to be abolished.

On Monday, Information Minister Jamal Jarrah fired Laure Sleiman, who has been the editor-in-chief of the state-run National News Agency for 11 years. Ms Sleiman was replaced by Ziad Harfoush.

"The decision to cancel the Ministry of Information clearly and explicitly guarantees the rights of employees and workers, and the continuity of their work,” Mr Jarrah said on Tuesday.

But he gave few details on how this would work if the ministry were abolished.

Meanwhile, actors and artists stormed the studios of state TV station Tele Liban on Tuesday, protesting against its lack of coverage of the protests.

"This station belongs to the millions that went down to protest," actor Badih Abou Chakra said from inside Tele Liban's Beirut headquarters.

Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star reported that an employee of the station spoke with the protesters.

“As journalists, we have to cover what's happening in this country," the employee said.

She said she had contacted Mr Jarrah about the channel's coverage.

Updated: October 23, 2019 03:11 AM

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